Gruening: We can’t afford to wait any longer to open our schools



Is anyone paying attention?

Scientific evidence continues to mount that K-through-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning and do so safely and responsibly.  Yet school boards and government officials across the country continue to bow to pressure from teachers unions and some parents to keep schools closed.  

Many healthcare professionals world-wide are now recommending an alternative approach rather than continuing extended lockdowns and school closures that cause irreparable damage from educational, physical, and mental health impacts.

In Juneau, Bartlett Hospital Chief Behavioral Health Officer Bradley Grigg, told Juneau Assembly members that hospital personnel have treated an unprecedented number of kids experiencing high levels of stress, thoughts of self-harm and suicide attempts over the past seven months.

In the nine months prior to the beginning of the pandemic in March, 37 children under age 18 received psychiatric services and 3 children were seen by Bartlett Hospital personnel as a result of suicide attempts.  In the six-month period since, 85 children received psychiatric services – 12 children for attempting suicide – 7 of those, age 13 or younger.  This does not include cases handled by other mental and behavioral health providers in Juneau.

This is an astounding increase in psychiatric caseload for a town the size of Juneau. Absent the pandemic, parents and schools would have declared it a health emergency by now.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s recent op-ed states what now appears obvious: “When Trump Was Right and Many Democrats Wrong”.  He describes how government authorities have ignored the data and science when it has become increasingly clear that schools, especially elementary schools, do not appear to have been major sources of coronavirus transmission, and remote learning is proving to be a catastrophe for many low-income children.

Yet decisions to close schools or not reopen them have continued to multiply in the latest pandemic surge.

American school districts initially responded to the pandemic by shuttering many public schools and turning to remote learning, even as many businesses have stayed open or reopened. Much of Europe pursued the opposite route, doing everything possible to keep schools operating — and the evidence suggests that Europe had the smarter approach.

Instead of acting on this information, school authorities seem more intent on promoting the narrative that everyone is equally at risk of contracting and transmitting Covid-19 with no differentiation between vulnerable groups and our school age population.

The Anchorage Education Association, a teachers union with about 3,200 members, cited a survey that reflected most Anchorage teachers — about 80% — are afraid to return to classes, and many also do not believe the district is properly prepared to mitigate COVID-19 risks.

Predictably, Anchorage school opening plans were derailed when their planned November 16 re-opening was postponed once again until later next year.

In Juneau, a modest proposal to re-open school for a small cohort of kindergarteners was abandoned as community infection rates increased.  Yet, bars and restaurants and many other retail establishments stayed open – albeit at reduced capacity.

It’s time to ask again: What are our priorities?

The evidence of the human cost of school closures is beginning to surface.  Absenteeism, failing grades, and skyrocketing mental health issues indicate that virtual learning is significantly less effective than classroom instruction and school closures are inflicting a crushing impact on working parents and children’s mental health.

The emotional toll on our young people cannot be over-stated.

The lack of social interaction and physical activity combined with academic  struggles have produced a level of stress that most young people are ill-equipped to handle.

How many children, not yet identified, are suffering from the damaging psychological and educational impacts of school lockdowns?  If the safety of students is not threatened, on the whole, by Covid-19 and students are minimally contagious if infected, how can our elected school boards and school officials ignore the longer-term effects of Covid-19 lockdown measures?

While there may occasionally be reasons to close a school temporarily, it must be seen as a last resort. Because it affects so much more than academics, education must be viewed as an essential activity and school officials should recognize that school buildings are the safest place for students to be.

Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970.


  1. Depriving a fourth grader of a year school takes away 10% of his life. A study from Virginia shows that poor performing children are failing at an alarming rate in attempts to remote learn. We held many back last year, now do we hold them back another year? So many kids will lose critical learning time in their lives which can never be replaced. Teachers make lots of money, grocery store clerks do not, but who has the highest exposure and takes the highest risk? Who is essential? Teachers need to teach kids in person where it is appropriate and if they will not they need to be terminated and hire grocery clerks to do the job.

  2. There is 9 months worth of data showing school age children are not at risk for COVID-19. There is 9 months of data from other countries that never closed their schools or reopened their schools 7 months ago. Their experience showed no risk to school age children. All this data also shows that school age children have not caused a spread of coronavirus.

    Yet the U.S. mainstream media and local government officials continue to display their ignorance of the data as well as their ignorance of what public health encompasses. They seem to think that public health is a one issue program. Their fear-mongering and abuse of power has becomes more and more criminal in nature.

    Will the voting public recognize this and oust them?

  3. You are correct. It is a problem. Do you know who the major driver is? The teachers unions. They hold our kids hostage and always demand more, but do a terrible job and it is almost impossible to get rid of them. I have seen plenty of incidents where the teacher’s unions protected teachers physically and sexually assaulting students. They are cancer and as long as we allow them to exist the teachers will continue to use our children as bargaining chips or they will go on strike. They do not care that the kids are dropping an average of 10 points off their normal grades and that they are having psychological problems. Until we get rid of public sector unions we will continue to get screwed by people that will strike, even when there is no money to pay them more, and do not care about the results their choices have on the community. I do include police unions in this because they protect the worst cops. There is such a thing as legal insurance, so they do not have the legal protection excuse. Public sector unions work on extortion.

  4. Valid, persuasive points, Win.
    Facts and common sense aside, the hard reality is the school issue, like everything else associated with artificial China-flu hysteria, seems predicated more on finally being able to exert near-total control over a once free peoples’ behavior by disrupting their lives, destroying their economy, and demoralizing them with constant uncertainty.
    What persuades you, Win, that school officials will re-open schools without being forced to do so by resolute taxpayers?
    What incentive do public officials have to re-open schools?
    Here’s the kicker, Win… To which unelected Big Parasite in this country did we grant the power to allow American children to return to school? What happens when Lesser Parasites in different places don’t get the re-open message or don’t want to give up their power?
    Absent active public revolt in such as tax strikes, work stoppages, lawsuits to recover school tax money for services not provided, disenrollment en masse, and other creative gestures of civil, non-violent disobedience by angry, resourceful residents,
    …these public officials will continue their bland, contemptuous indifference toward you and yours because they got the power, Comrade!
    and they’re pretty sure you can’t take it away from them,
    until you do.

  5. For gosh sake, Win. Please pull yourself together.

    Alarmist nonsense like this could give reasonable cynicism a bad name and please forgive me for taking you to the woodshed; I genuinely mean no disrespect.

    So when was the last time that you’ve seen anything even close to this sort of opportunity to slash bloated spending on trash “education” and to get curricula back on track, Win?

    Yet here you are, bleating and sobbing over a passel of spendy, relative non-issues like some kind of Oprah-programmed drone and you want to be taken seriously???

    Decent parents have already made arrangements to tend to their kids’ educations, Win. Taxpayers deserve a break and a better ROI, right? Does that make sense to you, Win?

  6. Win, there was a time pre Zoom, and covid, like my dad’s and your dad’s generation, that kids did work, before (if they were lucky) they went to school.If you think of time as a circle, we are in that period of the ark or radius.The kids who became “The Greatest Generation'”,came from that stock.

    In other words, improvise,adapt,and overcome. Don’t be an enabler and blame it on the “socialists.”Stop whining and pull up your big girl panties.

  7. Six months ago, my daughter who is a Physician in Anchorage told me that in the early winter, during the cold and flu season, there would be an increase in China flu cases. She also, said that the China flu would be over with a vaccine.
    My sister-in-law, a nurse with the VA in Oregon, will get the China flu vaccine Monday.

    “Never let a crisis go to waste”, has been the mantra of the Left since they realized that they were holding the China Flu Golden Egg. At every level the China Flu has changed our lives. No price has been to steep to corrupt everyday reality.
    A child’s education, medical science, receiving holy communion, the ballot box, Thanksgiving dinner, you name it.

    Wrongs that will never be righted, only justified and quickly shoved aside and forgotten.

  8. Insane to think that a dangerous vaccine will save you from what? A 99 percent survival rate virus! Hey roll your sleeves up for this toxic DNA changing life altering slow death vaccine. And not just one…. no you will need many! What fools you are. Do some research on what the agenda is.

    You like to believe you think outside the box, yet you blindly march in line holding out your arms for a death shot. Hey maybe Bill Gates will personally inject you. Have you ever thought it odd that this man who has no medical authority is pushing for this? Have you not seen what his Gates Foundation has done in Africa to those poor people and their children? Do you not see what he has been groomed for all his life? Ever wonder why he’s so freakin’ rich? It wasn’t from Microsoft folks. But hey…. sheeple roll your sleeves up and obey.

  9. Have any of you even looked at what the Covid shot consists of? Two shots. One that will knock you on your butt. You get sick and don’t feel good for days. The second you must return for in two weeks, and that one will level you according to the lovely folks at the CDC.

    Read on :

    If you read this, and still think this is the best option, then good luck to you. When they are letting airport passengers crowd together while they wait to talk to you about your travel etc for an hour (Fairbanks Airport) yet scream at you to keep six feet every where else I call bs.

    This vaccine is bs, and you’re still going to have to wear a mask in stores, on a plane, or wherever the insanity is still continuing.

    It’s like those wanting the vaccine think they will have some extra privileges or something.. You won’t. Just a sore arm, a sick body. Period. Enjoy your poison cocktail from Bill Gates!

  10. All that said, tele-education is the only way I can see to meaningfully reduce the bloated BSA, which must be done to begin matching state government operating costs with recurring revenues. Some students do better on tele-education than in school because those students must get up and move around every 8 to 15 minutes, something they can do without disrupting a tele-education class. Tele-education allows leveraging scarce education dollars. It also allows maximizing the impacts of the best teachers since those teachers can reach students statewide, and likely one day throughout the world. Parents with students who cannot abide this new regime will have time to relocate to where there are more options. Parents who now live in an Alaska community which contributes nothing to education costs can opt to relocate and become part of a community that picks up a major share of K-12 education. At a time when the state cannot begin to afford paying for school buildings throughout the state tele-education offers a very much needed alternative.

  11. There is only ONE way to open the schools: stop paying the employees. When you pay employees NOT to work, why would they want to open the school? Pay the parents at least half of the per student cost because they are teaching the kids. It seems as the govt unions want kids to fail and lose their futures.

  12. Per the CDC, the survival rate for persons ages 0-19 is 99.997%. So, 3 out of 100,000 in this age group will have fatal results. Open schools. Kids are being used as tools and we are being used as fools.

  13. Yes the vaccine will have side effects as do most shots. Some people will experience no side effects but whatever happens as a high risk individual, it’s better than being dead I can assure you. It’s better to do your part to help society and slow down and eventually stop the spread of this disease. A lot of people were against getting polio vaccination, and smallpox and German measles too. Dare I say they were the idiots.

  14. Completely agree with this well written commentary interestingly, from a non medical person. However the Great Barrington Declaration written by Dr Jay Bhattacharya MD,PHD professor of medicine at Stanford University supports Gruening’s statements 110%.

  15. The children the last 45 years always had emotional, mental, and behavioral problems whether their problem came about from a school inadequate and inefficient instruction delivery, or it came about from parent personal problems, or a combination of both.

    Depends on the children and their family how children are faring today. Most are actually looking happier than I seen from children in a long time, some i hear are hating the zoom sessions, the increased isolation, and lack of activities.

    But as I say happy children reflect what is going on their family and what their guardians are doing well. Even though school does play an important role on a child’s life, their family plays a greater role directing and encouraging that child’s development. Healthier thinking children are resilient under stress, while troubled children buckle and break under stress.
    Families who are facing crisis’ got to humble themselves that problems were always there just wasn’t obvious until another crisis like covid and longterm school closures appeared, they only will be wasting their time not correcting what is messed up in their own family lives by blaming school districts for what problems the district is and has been contributing into a family’s problem since 1900 dumbing down public school children.

    Remember, America 2020 doesnt have a systemic racism problem brown and white issue, it faces a personal accountability problem.

  16. I know a teacher who is adamantly opposed to schools reopening to in person learning because he/she thinks that he/she will catch Covid even though the risk of children infecting adults is statistically quite low. However, that same individual has no qualms about visiting the local watering hole because he/she needs to “unwind ” from the stress of the Covid pandemic. He/she is also planning on traveling Outside to visit family over the Holidays. I am not making this up! We need someone in the higher levels of the school districts throughout Alaska to put their big boy/girl pants on and crack the whip – go back to school & resume in person learning or hit the road! The taxpayers have had enough – no work, no pay.

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